Saturday, January 17, 2009
First Day Trip! (That Almost Didn't Happen)
There's no need for me go to into superfluous details about how unorganized and stubborn I was while I was "planning" my trip to Assisi (and besides, this is my blog! I should be putting myself in as positive a light as I can...) but it was pretty bad. Thankfully, I didn't do it alone and last-minute my Australian roomate, Anna, decided to come along. Her roomate, Ela, gave us very helpful advice to take a more direct bus route into the city instead of relying on minimetros, trains, and buses. I still need to get the hang of all of this transportation.
To get to the bus station, and possibly train station?, you go through this really interesting underground network which was adapted from earlier Perugian ruins. Some of my friends said that they are very scared when they go down there, thinking that it looks like a dungeon, but maybe you could say that it adds to the charm of this medieval city.
I go against everything I stand for on this trip by saying this, but I am very thankful that the guy in the bus station spoke english, if only a little, because Anna and I were a bit confused. The bus took twice as long to get to Assisi as a train would, probably 50 minutes, but I had trouble focusing on Anna because it was so nice to get out of the city and look around. It was starting to remind me of the Tuscan countryside...
I came into my trip with very little knowledge of the city (*always* do research before you travel!). During a brief tour of Perugia, that was part of my orientation, my tourguide was from Assisi and admitted a bit of a rivalry between the two cities. That makes sense to me - Perugia is Umbria's capital city while its neighboring city is a much bigger tourist attraction (my guidebook doesn't even have Perugia in it!). Plus, I'm sure more Americans know of Assisi over Perugia because of St. Francis and the obvious connection to San Francisco. Actually, my Finnish roomate, Sinni, said that Assisi is one of Italy's top-five tourist attractions (Rome, Florence, Venice, Pompeii, Assisi? I have no source so don't quote me on that). With all of that, I came expecting a much different city than I found.
I hate using this word but no other one really comes to mind, right now, but "quaint." With small houses adorned with painted shutters, and windowsills with flowers spilling out, it was almost too cliche, but Assisi is a beautiful example of an Umbrian hilltown. Now *THIS* is ITALY, as Dad would say :D. A fog was rolling in, which really upset Anna and me because we were missing out on perfect shots from how high up we were, but it just added to the quiet mystery of the city. Sure, we came inbetween 1-4pm when Italian miraculously are able to close down shop and have their big meal of the day and then take a little riposo before even thinking about going back to work...but this wasn't the image of a touristy city that I would think of. Truthfully, the quiet smalltown life of this Italian hilltown made me forget that I was in a major historical, and holy, city. Personally, I really don't see it as a major tourist attraction (sure, we're probably in the off-season now) but as a "pilgrimage site," as Rick Steves called it (see Mom! I'm embarrasing myself by even quoting Rick Steves for you. I hope you can forgive me for my travel blunders today...I did look at the book). I was amazed by how many churches where in the city. We truthfully didn't give ourselves that much time in the city and literally went church-hopping. It all got a bit overwhelming for me and I also felt very much a foreigner in the city, and that I didn't belong casually looking around in these gorgeous churches while people where in there praying. I felt very much on the outside looking in.
I wish I could have taken pictures on the insides of these churches but I will say (I'm even surprised I'm saying this) that they rival St. Peter's and the Duomo in Florence! There's a link to some of the pictures I took of the city on the right-hand side of the blog, but I will show you two pictures of the Basilica of St. Francis, the show-stopping final church Anna and I saw on our way back to the bus station, which was the perfect finale to our day of being more and more in awe of the art we saw.
~Moving from churches onto chocolate...Anna and I finally tried the famous Perugian Baci chocolate today! I wish I had bought my first Baci in Perugia, instead of Assisi, but my roomate and I plan on going to the chocolate factory right outside of the city later this month. I have a fond memory of sitting in Signor Russo's class as he treated himself to a Baci that his son must have brought back to him from Italy, and how he took his time making us all jealous as he savored every bite of the small candy (now all I need is saltimbocca and I'd really have a "circus in my mouth" Signor ;-)). Every "kiss[es]" has a little "love note" written inside the wrapper and I wanted to share mine with you because I nervously started laughing once I read it.
If you can't read it, it says "By all means marry. If you get a good wife you will become happy, and if you get a bad one you will become a philosopher."
Oh (History and) Philosophy (of Science) majors...No, I actually find that note very funny [though don't like how it was so catered to a male audience].
It felt comforting coming back to Perugia even though I've only been here for a short time. It was such a drastic change to go from this quiet, religious city back to this university town. It's Saturday night and all the Italian punks were on the main street, lined with with upscale clothing shops and there just seemed to be so much more life here.
Maybe I'm just getting defensive about my current home. Perugia was named National Geographic's Sexiest City after all...
[If anything, just look at the picture of they put up of Perugia. I think that's the best reputation of the city - showing Corso Vannucci (the main road of the city) up to a view of the fountain. I see this scene everday.]